What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Despite playing tonight without the services of either James Harden or Nick Collison, the Thunder still dominated early and cruised late. The Thunder played one good half of basketball, and fortunately for them, that was really all they needed. A night after putting on a show for the ages against Denver, the Thunder came out against the Hornets playing a very intentional and deliberate game. They showed good patience on offense, defended well, and limited the Hornets to under 30% shooting for the half. As a result, the Thunder went into the half up 61-38 and submitted themselves to working in more of the rotation players to get them valuable minutes when the stakes were low.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder won?
It pains me to say it because I am sympathetic to the Hornets, but this game came down to talent discrepancy. The Thunder have two of the 12 best players in the West, and Durant & Westbrook's 31 points apiece was more than enough to pull the Thunder through a sluggish game. On the Hornets' side of the ball, it was clear when their center Chris Kaman could not hit any type of shot that the Hornets had little else to turn to. Without a consistent inside presence, the Hornets were left to their perimeter players, who while playing slightly better than Kaman, could not provide nearly enough support to the Hornets offense to overcome the discrepancy.
The Hornets fought hard to the end, but they did not have the offensive juice necessary to overcome a 26 point deficit.
What is the key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
The Thunder held the Hornets to only 38 1st half points. For a team that is only scoring about 87 per game, such a deficit would mean that in order for OKC to lose, not only would the Thunder have to play terrible offensive basketball in the second half, but the Hornets would have to play a brand of basketball that goes way above and beyond their normal capabilities.
Which is not to say that the Hornets did not play hard; they did. In fact, they never surrendered the game, even as they were down 10 with a minute to play. They kept defending, kept pushing, and kept trying to make the score respectable. Unfortunately for them, they just don't have enough offensive players who can really enable their team to overcome such deficits or teamwide talent discrepancies.
I don't know if it is possible to score 31 lazy points, but if it is, OKC had two guys that did it tonight. Hence, the talent discrepancy.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
The Thunder came in, put in the work in the first half, and then entrusted the game to their untested bench players. It was a good strategy by Coach Scott Brooks, because he knew that if the Thunder did not have focus early, a close game in the second half could wind up in any number of unfortunate outcomes. Instead, the Thunder played good first half basketball, stepped aside to let guys like Cole Aldrich, Royal Ivey, and Reggie Jackson a chance to get some more game experience, and will move on with win number 25.
Hopefully the absence of Harden and Collison was little more than Brooks taking the opportunity to sit down two guys who are a little banged up from recent games and give them some additional rest while the risk was low.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 31 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
Thunder Down Under: Kendrick Perkins, 13 rebounds, 6 blocks, 3 assists
Thunder Blunder: Daequan Cook, 3-13 shooting and only 1-9 from 3-point range
Thunder Plunderer: Jarrett Jack, 18 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists
Next Game: vs Boston Celtics, February 22, 6:00 PM Central Standard Time